Written by: Brian Friend
The second of four North American Semifinals is set to take place in Eagan, Minnesota from June 4-6, and it’s an event with quite a storied history.
The Granite Games’ first year of competition was 2011 as the Cloudytown Throwdown. It grew and evolved over the years to become one of the largest, most inclusive CrossFit competitions in the world. At its peak in 2018, the Granite Games hosted nearly 30 divisions and almost 3000 athletes through a grueling, challenging, and rewarding weekend of competition.
As the competitive landscape shifted, Granite Games adapted to remain relevant. It was one of fifteen Sanctionals in the inaugural Sanctional season (2018-2019), and was slated to return last year prior to the global shutdowns that cancelled more than half of the competitive season. As the outline of the season changed again for 2021, Granite Games followed suit and became one of only four Semifinals in North America. Though it won’t have the incredible stable of divisions and athletes they are known for, the caliber of organization and entertainment directed towards the elite divisions this season should be unmatched and will undoubtedly result in an epic battle in all three divisions.
Seven former individual Games athletes lead a tightly contested group of men here. Chandler Smith, Saxon Panchik, Roy Gamboa, R. Paul Castillo and Streat Hoerner all have at least two years of Games experience, while Scott Tetlow has been once (2020).
However, several Games hopefuls are prepared to insert themselves into the competition this weekend. Amongst them are Drew Wayman, Coleten Mertens, Nick Mathew, Jake Marconi, Austin Spencer and Mitch Wagner each of whom are looking to qualify for the Games as an individual for the first time.
- The top three: Expect Smith, Panchik, and Paulson to set the pace throughout the weekend, all three should have what it takes to finish well inside the top five.
- One Rookie, One Vet: there’s almost always one rookie surprise who gets through in competitions like this. Look for one of the other four Games vets to get in, but also for a Games rookie to qualify from this division.
Top Ten (Projections):
This field seems to be very wide open with only four previous elite individual CrossFit Games athletes sent here to compete. Amongst that group, the headliners are Kristi Eramo O’Connell and Alessandra Pichelli. However, coming into the competition, most of the buzz has been around teenage sensations Mallory O’Brien and Emma Cary who have both finished in the top five of the worldwide Open and the North American Quarterfinal despite being only seventeen years old.
- Eramo and Pichelli should be comfortable enough in this environment to qualify.
- The road is open for O’Brien and Cary in the least deep female Semifinal field.
- There should be a pile up of around a half dozen other women vying for the final Games position.
Top Ten (Projections):
Two top five teams in I1uvit and the Most Fast Lift Heavy Crew coming out of Quarterfinals headline a list of familiar names in the team division.
Joining them are longtime regional stalwarts like CrossFit Omnia, CrossFit Kinesis, 12 Labours Lions, Timberwolf CrossFit, and Ocean’s State’s Finest, to name a few. Especially in North America, there seems to be a sense of nostalgia as the spirit of the Affiliate Cup is back. Expect that energy and passion to be as prevalent as ever at the Granite Games with only five Games spots available and the end of your season looming if you don’t manage to get one of them.
Top Ten Projections:
The big picture: Although the Granite Games will only feature elite divisions this year, the competition should be as exciting as ever with 15 invitations to the CrossFit Games available. All three divisions feature a great balance of veteran athletes, as well as Games hopefuls poised to break through. Semifinal drama was very high in week one, expect more of the same at the Granite Games this weekend!